On The Road
From diving with sharks to driving over dunes – six perilous getaways for the daredevil holiday-maker
4x4 Self Drive Tours in Namib Desert. Photograph courtesy of Live The Journey
If your idea of the perfect holiday involves reclining under an umbrella on a deserted beach scrolling through the Mail Online, read no further. If, however, your notion of recreation involves an accelerating pulse, a hint of danger and a forkful of risk worthy of a Mr Graham Greene book, these thrill-seeking adventures will get your adrenal glands working overtime.
Heli-Skiing in the Tordrillo Range, Alaska, US
Photograph by Mr Greg Harms/Third Edge Heli
Vertiginous drops. Absurdly narrow couloirs. Gargantuan glaciers. And nary another skier in sight. Alaska has some of the world’s most exhilarating skiing/snowboarding experiences and now there is the opportunity to ski alongside an Olympic gold medal winner. Mr Tommy Moe, winner of the men’s downhill in 1994, is the co-owner of Tordrillo Mountain Lodge. Together with Third Edge Heli, he can organise heli-skiing in the Tordrillo range, 120km north of Anchorage. A Eurocopter AStar (single-engine helicopter) spirits you into the nearby mountains. (The ride in the Eurocopter, as it swoops between peaks and drops along spires, is nearly as jaw-dropping as the downhill itself.) Many runs boast 900 to 1,200 vertical metres – one chute the guides will help you tackle, dubbed “Manhattan”, is only 15m wide, and boasts 300m walls. While there’s plenty of gnarly terrain to choose from (the helicopter has access to nearly 500,000 hectares), there are also immense bowls for less-seasoned downhillers. The guides quickly assess abilities to lead you to the runs that are challenging but manageable. At the end of the day, gourmet meals and a wood-fired hot tub will soothe your aching limbs.
Tip: Heli-skiing in Alaska isn’t just a winter thing. There’s superb spring skiing in June on “corn” snow (coarse, grainy, spring snow), and guests can combine skiing and Chinook salmon fishing through Tordrillo’s Cast and Carve programme. If you visit over the summer solstice (20 June), you might like to try a midnight ski, as the sun never sets.
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Cage Diving with Great Whites, Isla Guadalupe, Mexico
Photograph by Ms Jennifer Hayes/National Geographic Creative
Great white sharks are the undisputed apex predators of the ichthyologic world. At Isla Guadalupe, some 300km southwest of San Diego, thrill-seekers can go face-to-face with these fearsome creatures – albeit behind a sturdy aluminium cage, with a two-tonne crush strength. (The sharks are drawn to the waters off the island by the presence of elephant seals.) Guests of Shark Diver make the 24-hour passage to the island on a 26m vessel. After breakfast, the cages are dropped and the close encounters begin. Shark Diver has identified more than 150 individual great whites in Isla Guadalupe. During one-hour dives (several a day), you might meet Starboard (a female with big scars along her right side), Shredder (who earned his name by once severing the boat’s anchor cable) and Fat Tony (so named for his bullying, Mafioso ways; Fat Tony likes to bump the cage from below). Spookier than the bumping is when a shark’s eyeballs lock on an individual. Suddenly everything else in the world disappears.
Tip: While one needn’t be dive certified to cage dive, it’s strongly encouraged that guests take an intro to diving class at their local dive shop. Everything you need to know to cage dive will be shared in a one-hour on-board presentation.
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Kayaking Kauai’s Nā Pali Coast, Hawaii, US
Photograph by Mr George Steinmetz/National Geographic Creative
The fabulous fluted cliff sides of the Nā Pali Coast on Kauai’s northwest shore are breathtakingly beautiful. Some of the cliffs rise up over 1,200m; many are festooned with lush tropical greenery and topped by wisps of clouds and mist, a setting that fosters a mystical aura. The best way to experience the cliffs is the 27km, seven-hour paddle from Haena beach to Polihale, an adventure that’s considered the world’s most challenging one-day kayaking trip. The seas are consistently rough; tiger sharks are known to roam the waters; and 27km is a long way to paddle. That being said, the Nā Pali Coast paddle is not just for seasoned kayakers. “We have guests that have never been in a kayak do this trip every day,” said Nā Pali Kayak owner Mr Josh Comstock. “If you live an active lifestyle, you can do it.” Most consider the effort worthwhile. As you surf the tailwind generated waves, there’s a good chance you’ll spot green sea turtles, monk seals or pods of spinner dolphins. If it’s calm enough, you can paddle into the sea caves at Hanakapiai, one of which is fronted by a waterfall.
Tip: To experience the Nā Pali coast from a different perspective, consider hiking the Kalalau Trail, which skirts dizzying sea cliffs, rushing streams and primordial tropical forests. It’s considered one of the most demanding and potentially dangerous trails in the world, thanks to tremendous elevation gains and precipitous drops – at times 60m – adjoining the trail.
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Abseiling Waterfalls in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Photograph by Mr Kitti Boonnitrod/Shutterstock
Abseiling (sometimes called rappelling) is a means of dropping down a cliff face using ropes, an anchor, a pulley of sorts and a climbing harness. Launching off a 100m-high ledge trusting your rope (and your grip) is a rush. Add in a crashing waterfall and a jungle setting in Northern Thailand, and you have the makings of a real adventure. Cliff Top Adventures Tour will transport you from the city of Chiang Mai into the wilderness. After lunch, you’ll head further into the jungle to the base of a 100m-high waterfall, where you’ll get a safety briefing before scrambling up a trail to the top. You’ll then don your harness, snap in, drop over the edge and begin your descent. The roar of the water billowing over you will likely drown out the pounding of your heart. Be sure to pause in your descent to take in the richly forested mountains… and reward yourself with a swim at the bottom, though you’ll already be sopping wet.
Tip: Visitors to Northern Thailand may wish to detour to the Tak province to visit Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary and Thi Lo Su, perhaps Thailand’s most inspiring waterfall. While not known for its abseiling opportunities, Thi Lo Su drops a total of 200m over tiered falls that span roughly 400m.
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Wheeling the Namib, Namibia
Photograph courtesy of Live The Journey
The Namib Desert, which covers 30,000sq m of the Southern African nation of Namibia, may be one of the least hospitable regions on earth. Considered the world’s oldest desert, some dunes eclipse more than 300m in height and span 32km long. Run out of water or gasoline here – or topple your Land Rover – and it won’t be long before your bones will be picked clean by the jackals, baboons and hyenas that somehow abound in this godforsaken land. “It’s the kind of landscape that can bring you to your knees, but then it brings you back up again,” says Mr Hein Truter, CEO of Faces Of The Namib. “I’ve seen grown men in tears at the grandeur of the place.” Mr Truter’s company leads guests on 4x4 quests across this austere and awe-inspiring landscape, where one half expects Mad Max to come roaring over the next dune. Navigating the Namib’s imposing dunes is one of the trip’s highlights. Guides are happy to let you try your hand at driving as you watch for oryx, a large antelope that’s evolved to survive in this harsh climate. On the trip’s final day you’ll negotiate the Langewand (or “Death Acre”), a 2m-wide stretch of beach between the Atlantic and the dunes. A few vehicles have never returned.
Tip: One of the biggest challenges driving one of Namib’s dunes is getting over the lip. Your instinct is to press the brake as you reach the top since you don’t know what’s on the other side. Do that and you’ll get stuck on the belly of the vehicle. You have to get the timing just right to keep the car moving as you drop over the other side.
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Rafting the Zambezi River, Zimbabwe/Zambia
Photograph by Mr Basil Pao
The tumult of the Zambezi River’s rapids below Victoria Falls does not quite rival the power of the 108m falls… though if you’re in a rubber raft bouncing among mammoth rocks and crashing waves, not to mention crocodiles, the largely grade-five rapids (expert level) may seem the scarier of the two. Over the course of a day, white-water rafters tackling the Zambezi will run 23 rapids. “You’re not going to die on a guided Zambezi trip, but you are certainly going to have an adrenaline overload,” said Mr John Berry, managing director of Zambezi Safari And Travel Company. After a brief paddling lesson on a large pool below the falls – and a briefing on what to do if you fall out of the raft, because fall out you will – the ride begins. You ease into the Zambezi’s fury with a few mellow rapids, but the pace picks up quickly at Stairway to Heaven, a maze of crashing waves that’s been likened to dropping off a two-storey building. This is followed by The Gnashing Jaws of Death (a lengthy wave train that’s not quite as scary as its name implies), The Mother (which includes a plunge that’s enough to make your stomach drop) and Zambezi’s most famous rapid, Oblivion, which entails three progressively bigger waves that never fail to launch you into… well, you get the idea.
Tip: If you get an early start, you might want to observe Victoria Falls from the top of the falls. At a spot called the Devil’s Armchair, you can safely swim to the edge and peer right over the edge, where the river drops more than 90m.